Cambridge academic Lord Mair has warned that “time is running out” for science projects that have been in limbo since the UK left the EU.
Two years ago, the Government announced that the UK will associate to Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation.
However, this has still not been formalised, something the UK Government blames on the EU dragging its feet and that they are preparing for an alternative arrangement.
However, Lord Mair, who is a civil engineering professor at Cambridge University, warned that this decision needs to be urgently made, as the limbo is damaging scientific research.
He said: “Time is running out. Every university and research organisation in the country will provide examples of projects that are now in limbo.
“They are not being included in new European EU projects because they are seen as a risk and, last week, the science minister George Freeman announced that, if the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, the Government will be ready with a comprehensive alternative to ensure strong international collaboration opportunities, the so-called Plan B, both transitional and in the longer term.
“How soon will more details, especially for the longer term, be announced?
“Would the minister agree that there is an urgency to end the uncertainty that is so damaging to our universities and research organisations?
Lord Callanan, a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said he agreed the time is approaching for a decision to be made.
He said: “Actually, I would agree with the noble lord, there is a limit to how long this period of limbo can go on.
“We’ve provided guarantees to researchers and we are funding them in the meantime, but the time is approaching when we will need to make a final decision on this.”
The minister laid the blame for the delay entirely with the EU, insisting that the Government itself is ready to associate with Horizon.
He said: “The Government has been pushing the EU to implement our association to EU programmes, including Horizon Europe, but the EU has delayed our association to the detriment of researchers and business in both the UK and the EU.
“If the situation persists, we would be ready to introduce a comprehensive alternative programme, that will include a new long-term talent offer, a single innovation programme, uniting industry and academia, a global collaboration programme and support for world-class infrastructure.”
Oxford academic Lord Krebs wanted to know whether this “Plan B” would provide as much funding as the previous arrangement.
The zoologist and former president of the British Science Association said: “When we were members of Horizon, we took out more money than we put in due to the excellence of our proposals.
“Does the Government’s Plan B, if we don’t associate with Horizon, include the extra money that we got from the EU from other EU countries?”
The independent crossbench peer added: “When we were members of Horizon, we gained benefit from our leadership role in designing research programmes and shaping the future of Horizon. What is the government’s estimate as to the loss to UK science of the lack of that leadership role?”
Lord Callanan responded: “The Government needs no convincing about the benefits of the association to Horizon Europe…
“We still hope that the EU will have second thoughts.”